This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
High-Powered Infrared Laser
Innovators at NASA Johnson Space Center have developed a high-powered infrared (IR) laser that can trigger Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cells into thermal runaway (TR) without perforating the battery’s wall like previous methods. Inducing TR in a battery cell allows engineers to test and improve the safety performance of overheated batteries that can potentially catch fire or explode. The primary advantage of this method is the heat energy delivered by the laser that can be localized to the exact target spot on the battery cell, minimizing thermal biasing to adjacent cells. Triggering Li-ion cells with laser radiation could work on any commercial battery cell design with only exterior surface treatment required. The technology has several potential applications, including human-occupied vehicular transport applications that require a high level of rigor in determining margins of safety.
Contact: NASA’s Licensing Concierge
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Penn State University have created a new type of fiber that can perform like a muscle actuator, in many ways better than other options that exist today. And, most importantly, these muscle-like fibers are simple to make and recycle. The researchers showed that these fibers, which they initially discovered while working on another project, are more efficient, flexible, and able to handle increased strain compared to what’s out there today. These fibers could be used in a variety of ways, including medicine and robotics. Such a robotic arm could be used in an assistive exoskeleton to help people with weak arms regain movement and strength. Another potential application could be a sort of “self-closing bandage” that could be used in surgical procedures and naturally degrade inside the body once the wound heals.
Contact: Nat Levy
Ultrasound imaging currently requires bulky and specialized equipment available only in hospitals and doctor’s offices. But a new design by MIT engineers might make the technology as wearable and accessible as buying Band-Aids at the pharmacy. The engineers designed an adhesive patch that produces ultrasound images of the body. The stamp-sized device sticks to skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours. The stickers could have immediate applications: For instance, the devices could be applied to patients in the hospital, similar to heart-monitoring EKG stickers, and could continuously image internal organs without requiring a technician to hold a probe in place for long periods of time. If the devices can be made to operate wirelessly, the ultrasound stickers could be turned into wearable imaging products that patients could take home from a doctor’s office or even buy at a pharmacy.